In this, their 25th year, Naxos show no sign of reducing
the steady flow of new Ė and often premiere Ė recordings. Their
eclecticism is matched only by their sense of adventure. It
would be remarkable if this process revealed wheat every time,
but judging by the discs that have passed through my in-tray
in the past five years thereís not been nearly as much chaff
as one might expect from such an ambitious release programme.
As for their collaboration with the RLPO Ė Vasily Petrenkoís
Shostakovich cycle Ė itís produced a rich harvest indeed.
Conductor John Wilson is certainly familiar, but somehow pianist
John Lenehan has eluded me thus far. As for the music, the concerto
has already been recorded by the likes of Eric Parkin (Chandos)
and Kathryn Stott (Dutton),
but in true Naxos style Indian Summer and
Pastoral are world premiere recordings. Listening to
Lenehanís reading of the concerto Ė billed as a love song to
the composerís young protťgť, Helen Perkin Ė itís not difficult
so see why itís one of Irelandís most enduring works. Thereís
no mistaking the ardour of that opening tune, or the heartís
ease of the pianoís first entry. But then this music is a wellspring
of delights, Lenehanís bright, bubbly playing matched by that
of the orchestra, the latter clearly benefiting from Petrenkoís
Sonically, this is one of Naxosí better efforts, certainly a
far cry from the dreadful Busoni concerto I reviewed earlier.
Only in the more ebullient passagework of the In tempo
moderato does the piano sound a little glassy, the tuttis
equally so. This is an issue with the orchestral items recorded
in Liverpoolís Philharmonic Hall; the solo pieces, recorded
at Champs Hill, sound much more natural. Still, that matters
less when the music sparkles so. The Lento espressivo
has moments of introspection that, far from being self-absorbed,
have a liberating charm thatís hard to resist. The balance between
piano and orchestra is generally fine, crisp ensemble and Lenehanís
highly articulate pianism disguising the fact that Irelandís
textures are inclined to clot.
Itís not the tidiest of concertos Ė the percussive intrusions
in the second movement are a tad incongruous Ė but the composerís
at his tunesome best in the Allegretto giocoso. Thereís
a marvellous, crystalline quality to the piano part, somewhat
overshadowed by the orchestraís bloated tread. That said, it
all ends in the sunniest of outbursts. An engaging performance
of an endearing work, in which sheer enthusiasm triumphs over
limited expressive range and some structural awkwardness.
As for the Arcadian intimations of Legend for piano and
orchestra, they soon give way to tough, angular writing
thatís unsettling. Lenehanís more muscular delivery is very
well caught by the Naxos engineers, as is the menacing percussion.
I suppose itís an exercise in mood, or evocation, which means
thereís a free-flowing, rhapsodic feel to the music. And although
the orchestra sounds a little unfocused in the tuttis this is
still an atmospheric piece, and a good companion for the much
earlier Rhapsody in F sharp minor that follows.
In many ways, the Rhapsody is the most persuasive and
memorable item on this disc; indeed, it gives Lenehan the chance
to flex expressive muscles only hinted at thus far. Thereís
an astonishing reach and scale to his playing, the listener
swept along by the glittering torrent; moreover, thereís a focus
and intensity to Irelandís writing here thatís most impressive.
A fine piece, superbly played and very well recorded in the
sympathetic surroundings of the Music Room at Champs Hill. Ditto
the even earlier Pastoral, whose soft edges belie the
strength and formality of its content. Yet another pleasing
example of Lenehanís intuitive, unforced playing style.
And like most Indian summers Irelandís balmy little piece is
all too short, the three-movement Sea Idyll infused
with a meandering lyricism thatís utterly enchanting. And Naxos
have done a good job here; the pianoís range and colour are
well preserved, the sound clear and clean. As if this werenít
talent enough, Lenehan reveals a flair for rhythm in the Three
Dances; the Gypsy Dance has plenty of flicker
and flash, the Country Dance reassuring in its plainness,
Lenehan adroit in the turn-on-a-sixpence compactness of the
This is a an excellent bargain, though I have some reservations
about the concerto and Legend, which may be better
served elsewhere. Absolutely no such qualms about the solo pieces,
which are as good as youíre likely to find anywhere. As for
John Lenehan, I canít imagine how Iíve missed a pianist of such
talent, and I look forward to hearing more from him. As ever,
the liner-notes are well written, and at budget price this CD
is a good introduction to Irelandís changing musical landscapes.
see also reviews by John
France and Rob